Sustainable Manufacturing and Environmental Pollution Programme

Mananasi Fibre:  An innovative start-up with a gender-friendly workplace ethic

Mananasi Fibre is a start-up based in Thika, Kenya that takes a “hands-on” approach to innovation.  The company’s mission is to transform discarded pineapple leaves into textile-grade fibres, nutrient-rich compost and soil-enhancing products.   Mananasi kicked off site implementation in July 2023 with the help of grant funding from the SMEP Programme.  The focus has been on testing and refining the technologies, fabricating machinery, scaling and exploring new markets for products.  These are huge tasks in themselves, but Mananasi has also been putting a range of systems in place to ensure that the company invests in staff.  

Human resources are an incredibly valuable asset for a small, fast-growing company, and Mananasi is seeking to foster an inclusive climate for employees at the outset. Mananasi actively recruits women in all levels and positions in the company, both skilled and unskilled, and certainly doesn’t hold on to the perception that certain jobs are unsuitable for women. Stacy Komonya Chagusia, a 21-year-old welder Mananasi employee, is one such employee.

Welding is a vital role for a company that designs and fabricates machinery from scratch, and it is a role that she loves. Stacy narrates her story in the interview featured below and here.

The Mananasi fabrication team. From left to right: Bonface Ochieng, Stacy Komonya Chagusia, David Omondi Manya.

Stacy speaks of some of the discriminatory practices she experienced in the workplace after obtaining her certificate in welding.  These include disrespect and isolation in the male-dominated workspace and being asked to “give favours in return for a job”. Such negative experiences almost made her give up her dream profession.  In this frank interview, Stacey also conveys her love for metalwork, citing USA-based metalworker Jen Phillips as her inspiration.  She acknowledges that she lacks the physical strength of her male colleagues, but she makes up for this in agility and that her smaller size can be an advantage too when working in tight spaces.  In addition to metalwork, she has taken on other roles at Mananasi, managing small field teams and in these roles has discovered leadership and communication skills.  Finding “courage” as she describes. 

Stacey’s story aligns with the experience of many women in the workplace in manufacturing, who are more likely to resign due to discrimination, than in other sectors. This compounds the stereotype that women are not stable employees.  Discrimination of women in male-dominated sectors almost seems to be “accepted'”.  However, her frank interview gives insight into the stress, depression and anxiety that can result.  Stacey has now found a “home” at Mananasi, a young company committed to fostering diversity and inclusivity.  James Boyd-Moss, company director confirms “We recognize the imbalances of women in employment and are dedicated to providing opportunities for female talent to thrive in our organization”

We applaud Mananasi Fibre for providing a work environment that enables young people like Stacy to explore their potential, and Stacy for courageously telling her story, which helps us to visualise the realities of gender discrimination.   

 

Mananasi is a grant recipient of the SMEP Programme, which is funded by FCDO. SMEP  selects grant recipients based on their ability to address pollution mitigation through scalable solutions.  However, a range of other factors are considered, including the ability to deliver on Gender and Social Equity (GESI) aspects.  The start-up grant funding has enabled this dynamic enterprise to test and scale the decortication machinery which extracts the fibres from the pineapple leaves producing eco-friendly solutions for fashion. Complimentary biochar and composting facilities mean that Mananasi is developing a comprehensive and commercially viable solution for pineapple plantation waste, aiming to process up to 4000 tonnes of waste annually.

SMEP is fostering FCDO’s commitment to Gender, Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) in all funded projects. This includes social inclusion, promoting local economic opportunities, and opportunities for the hardest-to-reach in communities, leaving no one behind.

The Team at Mananasi Fibre

Mananasi has created 37 stable job opportunities in under a year, with just under half the team being under the age of 30.  Significantly, just under half of the team are also women.  

The number of jobs may seem modest, but is important in context, given the high levels of youth unemployment in Kenya and given that Mananasi is opening up new opportunities within new value chains.  On the topic of youth, the company has an internship programme, offering both full-time and part-time positions. An agronomy intern will be recruited to work alongside monitoring teams to evaluate the application of biochar and composts soon.  The strong environmental and social ethic of the company provides a great opportunity for practical learning on sustainability practices, while also offering the youth a helping hand through internship, which contributes to valuable work experience in the job marketplace.  A lack of skills development programmes, compounded with gender discrimination in manufacturing, exacerbates youth exclusion, especially among young women[1]. As such, women are more likely to be unemployed in sectors that prioritise hiring skilled workers rather than providing skills development. 

SMEP will follow the progress of Mananasi with interest as they continue to prioritiise employee wellbeing as a key component of the company’s long-term commercial success and hope that other organisations and employers are inspired by the inclusive approach to human resource management.  

 

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